Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Dose of Their Own Medicine

Although both my parents are from Iloilo, I grew up inside the Victorias Milling Company (Vicmico) compound in Victorias, Negros Occidental because my parents worked there. Vicmico is the largest sugar refinery in Asia and its compound in Negros Occidental is a classic example of an economic “enclave.” Inside the Vicmico compound are schools (Don Bosco for boys, St. Mary Mazzarello for girls), American-style homes for its executives and a pleasant housing project for its rank-and-file employees (Canetown Subdivision), churches (i.e. Church of the Angry Christ), a world-class golf course, a medical clinic and a grocery store ran by the employees’ cooperative. People there lead simple, work-oriented and family-centered lifestyles. Vicmico is one of the few places in the country I know where all the adults are employed and all children attend school. People also didn’t worry if they get sick because of the company’s “womb-to-tomb” policy. For aside from the clinic in Victorias, Vicmico also operated a small hospital exclusively for its employees in Manapla, a town about 30 minutes away from Victorias.

My idyllic, sheltered childhood in Vicmico was shattered by two events that occurred in the mid-1980s. One was when pictures of the malnourished “Batang Negros” came out in international magazines. Up until that time I thought all adults had jobs and that all children like me went to school. Of course, I was aware that life for the sacadas in Negros was hard but I did not think that they were so poor to the point that their children already looked like the starving children of Ethiopia. It was the first time I remember feeling lucky about my lot in life and wanting to do something for my less-privileged countrymen.

The other eye-opener for me was when the NPA rebels raided the town of Manapla killing several policemen and innocent bystanders. As Manapla was only 30 minutes away from our town, I remember feeling very scared and resolving to die fighting should the NPAs continue on with their rampage in Vicmico. I still remember the incident clearly because it was the first time my father allowed me to carry his .22 caliber Beretta pistol so that I can supposedly use it to defend my two little sisters when the NPA attacked. I was around 12 years old at that time but I felt I became a man that night.

I learned later that the local NPA provincial commander tried to extort money from company executives by threatening to burn down sugarcane fields and railcars used to transport sugarcane from the haciendas to the Vicmico sugar refinery. As the largest sugar refinery in Asia, the local insurgents thought they could shake down a few million pesos in exchange for “industrial peace.” The management decided not to give in to the NPA’s “request” for a monthly “revolutionary tax.” The Manapla Raid was therefore a scare tactic to make company executives give in to their demands.

Instead, Vicmico executives decided to employ a company-size “private army” comprised of ex-Scout Rangers and former Philippine Army personnel to defend company property. The new “company security personnel” were quartered at a camp near the golf course and provisioned with the latest automatic weapons, vehicles and battle gear. Soon, our peaceful community looked more like a military camp as the fierce-looking mercenaries regularly patrolled our compound. We all felt like we were under siege and as an impressionable teen-aged boy I idolized the recently-arrived soldiers-of-fortune who are protecting Vicmico from the NPA. It may also be that the conditions then glorified “men-in-fatigues:” it was the time when Top Gun, Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Hamburger Hill were betamax hits and Gringo Honasan’s RAMBoys were then the “crush ng bayan” all throughout the Philippines.

Eventually, the NPA insurgency in Negros Occidental was defeated through a large-scale AFP operation now known as the “CHICKS Offensive” which was led by the controversial Brigadier General Raymundo Jarque (controversial because Jarque defected to the NPA years back but has since returned to the fold). CHICKS by the way is the acronym for Candoni, Hinoba-an, Ilog, Castellana, Kabankalan, Sipalay; municipalities located in the southern portion of Negros Occidental province where the military campaign took place.

Anyway, I am sharing my childhood memories to put into context the current debate on the “All-Out War” policy directive of President Arroyo. Recently, MalacaƱang announced that P1 billion will be allocated to stamp out the CPP/NPA in 2 years and that they will sue businessmen/corporations caught paying “taxes” to the Communist rebels. As to be expected, the “All-Out War” was condemned by Joma and his local Communist supporters and likewise by some Filipino businessmen caught in the middle. Leftist party-list groups have since accused Arroyo of masterminding the systematic extermination of their activists and peasant-leaders and have singled out General Jovito Palparan as the brains behind the ever-increasing bodycount of dead activists in the country. The Left have also raised concerns that the “All-Out War” will result in “collateral damage” and innocent civilians killed.

If the accusations propounded by the Left are true and they have the evidence to prove it in court, by all means they should sue the concerned military officials in court. They should also concentrate on unmasking the perpetrators and build a solid case against them instead of coming up with lame and unconvincing arguments in the media to win public sympathy. I also suggest that the leaders of the Left take care of the families of their murdered supporters.

People must be made to understand that the next counter-insurgency war will take place right in their midst (in the cities, town centers and thickly-populated areas) and not in the mountains, remote barangays or the countryside as in the past. This is so because majority of the NPA are no longer based in the boondocks but are now in the periphery of town centers living as ordinary farmers, factory workers and fisherfolk. And the battles will not be long-drawn, battalion-sized engagements but sporadic, low-intensity and small-unit actions. This is so because the NPA has been so reduced in strength that it could hardly summon enough men to mount a battalion-sized formation.

Whoever thought of the idea of forming “death squads” to go after the Communists one-by-one must have watched the Steven Spielberg movie “Munich” (where a small group of assassins was hired by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to exact revenge on the plotters of the Munich Olympic Massacre) and concluded that the Israeli method could be applied effectively here. And the strategy seems to be working – Leftist leaders seem at a loss on how to effectively “address” this new “initiative” by still-unidentified groups.

The “silent extermination campaign” of selected communist cadres is the Filipino version of a “surgical strike.” Killing off Leftist leaders individually is a cheaper and most cost-effective way of neutralizing enemies of the state. Cheap because you only need to fund a small band of well-trained, highly-motivated operatives to track down and eliminate the rebels. Cost-effective because it does not entail large-scale troop deployments and conventional warfare-type of operations. Assassinating communists one by one is also an efficient way of minimizing “collateral damage.” Batallion-sized operations often result in hundreds of innocent civilians getting caught in the crossfire. During the CHICKS Offensive for example, thousands of Negrenses were uprooted from their homes and many died of diseases in the temporary refugee camps set up by the AFP. These are the conditions that are being exploited by the Communists to recruit more members to their cause.

The NPA rebels and the mainstream Left have long used to their own advantage the “democratic cover” of the very institution it seeks to abolish. I remember reading a newspaper columnist once explaining that technically, only government troops and police officers can be charged with human rights violations and not the NPA. It is so, he argued, because our military and police officials have sworn an oath to uphold the law and respect human rights while the NPAs operate outside the ambit of law and therefore cannot be made to answer for something they did not swear to. So, while the NPA is free to use all means (including landmines) to defeat the military, the military is hampered and constrained to observe certain rules of warfare and procedures in pursuing its anti-insurgency campaign.

As a neutral observer, I find it quite amusing to see the CPP/NPA receiving a dose of its own medicine. The guerillas are being defeated in their own game of guerilla warfare. The CPP/NPA committed a big tactical error in withdrawing from the Peace Talks and their ground commanders are all running for cover. I wonder what will happen now to Joma’s long-term strategy of “waiting out” democracy? With the way things are going, his Communist movement might not survive long enough to see that day.

Going back to my two life-changing childhood experiences in Negros, I learned early on that bearing arms against the government is not the solution to solving our country’s problems. While I questioned and condemned the existence of a government that allowed its children to starve, I saw that there are far more effective ways of solving our problems than armed rebellion. Eventually, the problem of the malnourished children was solved not by the NPA but by community spirit, “pagkakaisa” and “damayan.” In the aftermath of the global media exposure of the “Batang Negros,” international and local aid poured in and the children were saved. Local hacienderos were shamed into treating and paying their workers better. Even Filipino folk singer Freddie Aguilar chipped in by raising awareness to the plight of the malnourished children thru his song “Sagipin Natin ang mga Bata sa Negros.” The “Batang Negros” episode clearly demonstrated that if we all worked together, we will be able to solve our problems. It is a shame, however, how Filipinos tend to wait until the problem becomes acute and unmanageable before he can be moved into action.


Jay Javines said...

Hi Ollie.

I was a 2nd year Highschooler then at Don Bosco-Victorias when our town was raided by NPA.

Wala ko ya gani kabalo nga ang mga nilupok gali halin sa engkwentro coz we thought it was just the firecrackers exploding.

Funny coz before the supposedly engkwentro that night, there was already rumors that a raid may happen anytime of the week.

I laso do remember that on that fateful day, nearing the 6pm angelus, I saw a 6x6 truck, fully loaded by armed men on its way to the town proper.

I thought, we thought, amo na to ang reinforcement...yun pala, as we learned later, mga NPA's gali.

Dominique said...

Hi, Oliver. Like you, I also had my own similar experience. I was 8 years old when we heard a violent knock at our door, demanding that my parents come out. Before long, three men were pointing long rifles at my father. But the difference in our stories is that the people holding threatening to shoot my Dad were not NPA but drunken soldiers from the Philippine Army. That's martial law in Davao for you.

So what do you think would have happened if they shot my Dad that night? If it had happened today, the answer would be simple: brand him a communist sympathizer. End of story.

No easy answers, my friend.

Iloilo City Boy said...

Grabe. So were the soldiers punished? What happened after?

vic said...

Your mentioning of the security you had because of the "womb-to-tomb" health policy of the company where your parents work, just remind me why the country is in such social turmoil. That the inequity among the different segments of society must have contributed to the attraction of a lot of desperate people to join the insurgency, even without the probality of a clear victory just to survive. Risking their lives just to survie. I was there during the early years of Martial Law. I was debating to myself eithere to become a commisioned officer of the Armed Forces or Join the Insurgency. My father had something different in his mind. And here I am posting from "The True North Strong and Free". thanks..

Iloilo City Boy said...

That's quite an extreme set of choices Vic, to be a rebel or a soldier. If your family did not migrate, what do you think would have been your choice?

vic said...

My answer to that would be that I may had gone the way of my youngest twins sisters who to the end (until one by one they both decided that the USA is the best place for the future, actually the other one with her husbsnd and three teenagers just moved dec 05)were the true "activists", but I would be the one the "real" soldiers might be hunting down. On the other hand I might be tempted by the offer of the Family "Alger" whom I believe you might have heard and their positions during the Martial law being the graduates of PMA. visit www.alimodian.net and you'll find out that we are a family. And the "money" during the Marcos era. glad things turn out the "wrong" way.